April 11, 2017

From trans rights to the right HIV response

Written by Liaam Winslet, IAS Member and transgender activist

This article originally appeared on the IAS website. Reposted with permission.

Liaam Winslet, is a peer educator for the Transgender Family Programme at the Community Healthcare Network (CHN), providing health and social services to low-income communities in New York, United States. Liaam became an International AIDS Society (IAS) Member in 2016 and was a scholarship recipient of the 21st International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2016). Originally from Ecuador, Liaam emigrated to the United States in 2012 to live freely and openly as a transgender woman and to work towards advancing the human rights of transgender people. Liaam opens up about her struggles as a trans Latina woman, the barriers transgender people face in accessing healthcare, and what needs to be done to end the HIV epidemic among this key population. This is her story…

“We are all born free and equal with the same human rights. Trans people are no different.”

I am a survivor of violence and know what it is like to be excluded and to have your rights violated. I became an activist when I was 15 years old to defend the human rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in Ecuador – my home country. I became an activist because I experienced first-hand the discrimination and hatred for who I am – a transgender woman. I was treated differently, as a third or even fourth class citizen in Ecuador. We are all born free and equal with the same human rights. Trans people are no different. My society did not let me participate and silenced my voice – I had little or no access to education, health services, and employment. During my high school studies, I was frequently verbally and physically abused for living openly as a transgender woman.

Globally, transgender people are more vulnerable to HIV, particularly transgender women who are 49 times more likely to acquire HIV than the general population. HIV in Ecuador is very high among transgender sex workers, with an HIV prevalence rate as high as 32%. After my friend was kicked out of her home because she was HIV positive, I decided to get involved in HIV prevention and education efforts. It was that instance that gave me strength to show society that love and affection should not change the moment someone is diagnosed with HIV, nor should it because someone is transgender. In my town and country, it was taboo to talk about HIV and transgender issues. For this reason, I worked as a health educator in my local trans community, specifically with transgender women sex workers aged between 16-29, to raise their awareness about HIV and teach them prevention strategies.

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